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Wednesday November 22, 2017

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Billy Bishop, he was — and is — a Canadian hero.

William Avery (Billy) Bishop ,First World War flying ace, author was born on 8 February 1894 in Owen Sound, ON. Billy Bishop was Canada’s top flying ace of the First World War, and was officially credited with 72 victories. During the Second World War, he played an important role in recruiting for the Royal Canadian Air Force and in promoting the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.

Growing up, Billy Bishop was an outdoorsman and enjoyed riding, shooting and swimming. He also exhibited a keen interest in flight at an early age. As a boy, he crafted his own flying machine from an orange crate and bed sheets. He “flew” his craft from the roof of the house, only to land in his mother’s rose bushes.

Bishop attended Beech Street School. As a teen, he attended the Owen Sound Collegiate Institute before enrolling at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, ON.

Lieutenant Bishop began his military career in August 1914 with the Mississauga Horse Regiment. However, he was unable to sail overseas with his division on 1 October, as he had pneumonia. After his release, Bishop was reassigned to the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles in London, ON. He and his division departed on 8 June 1915 and sailed overseas aboard the Caledonia. They arrived in England and were stationed in Shorncliffe military camp.

One day in July 1915, Bishop saw an airplane land in a nearby field and then take off again; this event would change the whole direction of his career.

Bishop discovered that it would be six months before he could be trained as a pilot, but if he became an observer, he could be admitted immediately. Bishop applied for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps and became a RFC observer in September 1915. He was stationed with the No. 21 Squadron and went to the front lines in January 1916, where the Squadron flew missions deep into enemy territory.

On 29 August 1917, Bishop arrived at Buckingham Palace, where King George V presented him with the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross for his actions up to the end of May, as well as the Victoria Cross for his actions on 2 June 1917. In September, he received his fourth decoration, a bar for his Distinguished Service Order.

On 16 June, Bishop received a message recalling him to England to organize a Canadian flying corps; by that time, he had recorded 62 victories. Within the next three days, Bishop was credited with 10 additional victories, bringing his total to 72 enemy aircraft. On 19 June, his final day in France, Bishop shot down five German airplanes in 12 minutes. This feat earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross, which he was awarded on 3 August 1918.

In 1936, Bishop was made an Honourary Air Vice Marshal by William Lyon Mackenzie King. In this position, he advocated more funds and expansion of the Royal Canadian Air Force. On 10 August 1938, Bishop was appointed Honourary Air Marshal and made head of the Air Advisory Committee.

Without doubt, Bishop was both brave and skilled. Whether or not his combat claims were exaggerated, his daring and his success were an inspiration during the First World War. He died on 11 September 1956 in Palm Beach, Florida .

For many, he was — and is — a Canadian hero.

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